Stephen Purcell comes to Villanova from the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem. He credits Professors Paul Danove, Alice Dailey and Mark Wilson for nurturing his continued dedication to learning and academics. I recently had the chance to sit and chat with Purcell. Our conversation covered Paradise Lost, the history of ideas, and Purcell’s plans for the future. You will find excerpts of it below.
William Repetto: What’s your major? Can you tell me more about your project?
Stephen Purcell: I’m an honors English major and, in this project, I am looking at Milton’s Paradise Lost. I’m contextualizing it through the history of ideas, so I’m looking at the ways that language and representation change in the 17th-century when Milton is writing Paradise Lost. I kind of use that to understand how he is dividing before and after the fall.
WR: The history of ideas sounds like a challenging concept to tackle. Can you talk about how you’re going to handle that?
SP: Most basically, before the 17th-century, we felt like we could trust language. We saw it as something that was part of the world. So, for example, we didn’t just decided that this was a table, it literally was a table. In the 17th-century we lost faith in that. We lose faith in the fact that nature is something that we can intuitively understand. When we lose that, we feel we lose a theological connection with God. So when Milton writes Paradise Lost, he uses the fall of humanity as the reason for our distrust of language and the severed or changed relationship with God that we get out of it.
WR: When did you first know that this intensely literary work was what you wanted to do in college?
SP: I liked English since high school when it really got into talking about how texts work, how stories work. That really captured my imagination, and that really told me that I want to be an English major. My interests other than that have been shaped by my interest in stories and how they work culturally.
WR: Has the library been instrumental in shaping your work? How has becoming a Falvey Scholar helped you?
SP: I’m really proud of the research that I’ve done and the work I put into the thesis. It’s almost certainly going to be my writing sample when I apply to grad school, so it means a lot to me for it to be recognized in this formal way that let’s me show that the library has been helpful for me as a place to think. I make a lot of connections just being in the physical space of the library.
WR: Is the Falvey Memorial Library the first big library community you have been a part of?
SP: When I was really little, I spent a lot of time at the local library, but I think it was high school and college when I rediscovered how much I like reading and working with texts and stories and ideas… Coming to Villanova and getting to work at Falvey has really complemented and aided my intellectual growth.
WR: Now that your time at Villanova is coming to an end, what do you have planned for the future?
SP: I want to be an English professor. Immediately after college, I’m going to spend a year teaching in France as a way to build up my language skills and get some more language experience. This summer I’m going to start working on my graduate school applications and hopefully send them out while I’m in France, so I can come back to a grad program.
Photographs by Kallie Stahl and Alice Bampton, Communication and Marketing Dept.
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